Belize, Thanksgiving Week 2016, Part II

red-hut-inn-veranda
Red Hut Inn veranda.

(As before, blue links are informational and I receive zero financial benefit from them. Any pictures which aren’t The CEO’s are linked to their sources, and please don’t steal his.)

Monday, Nov. 21 – We’re up early and breakfasting on the veranda in the open air before we take our beach things to the rental car and head downtown to Belize City. Bookworm successfully navigates us through the one-way streets (and one intersection where the stoplights are nonfunctional) to the Museum of Belize. Louis pooh-poohed this institution last night, but he doesn’t know us.

You know how some people love the beach so much that they go every vacation? And how some people make the trip to Disneyland every few years? (Actually, I have a college friend who loves Disney World so much that she and her family go every year… and now she’s a travel consultant for Disney. I haven’t used her services, but if you’re thinking of visiting any Disney facility anywhere in the world, I know Holly would arrange something awesome for you: Holly’s Holidays.) Then there are people who vacation somewhere new each time, people who only go skiing, people who visit the same resort in the Poconos every year.

Us? We’re Museum People. Wherever we go, we find the museum(s).

museumbelizeSo this morning, we park Big Red on a city street across from the museum and right near the Baptist church school, having on the way passed the Catholic school, the Apostolic Pentecostal school, the Methodist mission school, and the Assembly of God school; the windows are open and we can hear what’s going on in class. (Gaze and Taz are missing two days of school this week, and they’re not sorry!) As we walk to the entrance, we see a sign that states the museum’s hours… and they’re closed on Monday.

The security guard hears us wondering what we’re going to do, and motions to us. “Come on in,” he says. Really? Apparently so. The guy at the front desk tells us that we’re welcome. The CEO asks about the jade head from Altun Ha, and the desk guy explains that it’s kept in a vault within a vault within a vault in the central bank building behind the museum, which itself used to be a prison, and is not available for viewing. “They got it out for people to see it for half a day in 2012, you know, when the Mayan calendar was supposed to end. But bang, put it right back away safe.”

earflares-1
Mayan jade ear flares.

The museum is small, built of stone, and you can clearly see where the cells used to be. There’s an exhibit of Belizean stamps, and a small exhibit of glass and ceramic containers from Colonial times. There is an intense exhibit on slavery in Belize, during the days when it was British Honduras and shipped fine mahogany all over the world. Upstairs, there is a display of Mayan jade ear ornaments and necklaces, and a case containing the skeleton of the elderly man found in a tomb at Altun Ha with the jade head. Here, the head is clearly a replica and not nearly as well done as the replica in the exhibit at Altun Ha; I hope that the skeleton is a replica as well and the real bones have been buried with dignity. There are some really beautiful examples of Mayan pottery as well. All in all, the small museum our host dismissed as not worth the time keeps us engaged for just under two hours.

gtb-belize-brown-sugarThen we grab our beach bags from Big Red and walk past two more schools (Anglican and another Catholic) toward the water taxi. The ferry ride takes 45 minutes to Caye Caulker, and although the sky is clouding up, we walk down the island hoping to see if we can find a place to eat the sandwiches we brought. It begins to rain just as we’re passing one of the businesses that advertise snorkeling tours, and we step in to inquire, grateful for the shelter. It’s after noon, and the tour for the day left at 10:30, but they have slots for Tuesday.

We have a tour lined up for Tuesday, to visit the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. Wednesday, then? Wednesday. We take the contact information for Hicaco Tours and walk on.

Photo by Marc Veraart at Flickr, some rights reserved.
Photo by Marc Veraart at Flickr, some rights reserved. Click through to follow link.

The rain stops, though everything is still very wet. Behind a sandwich shop that seems to be closed (we’re here at the very end of hurricane season, before the high vacation season starts in December), we find a picnic table and devour our lunch. Gradually the sun comes out and we walk on toward “the split,” the place where a hurricane washed away part of the island in the early 1960s, leaving those who lived or owned property on the northern bit without a good way to reach the southern bit, where the water taxi docks. “They thought about building a bridge,” the guy at the boat tour place told us, “but they figured that another hurricane would just wipe it out again.” I would have thought that a pontoon bridge might be sensible, since the area to be bridged is not large, but apparently the idea has been dismissed.

At the split, we visit the only public restrooms on the island. They’re hard to find and cramped, poorly lit. (This seems like a terribly tourist-unfriendly idea to me: Waikiki has public restrooms. Virginia Beach, Nags Head, Daytona: all have public-access buildings with showers and toilets and stalls where visitors not staying in hotels right near the beach might change into their swimsuits. True, those are all American beaches, but Bondi and Manly, near Sydney, also have public loos.)

The main street on Caye Caulker.
The main street on Caye Caulker.

The sun finally comes out, and it’s a beautiful day again. We keep seeing open-air kitchens and restaurants with odd hours along the two streets. Whatever they’re cooking (I’m guessing grilled chicken? seafood and plantains?) smells fabulous, but we can’t eat dinner here because the last ferry leaves at 5.

Bookworm and The CEO discover a low-tide area where empty conch shells are strewn about; they pick up three. One of them is a peculiarly greenish color outside, but its inside lip is a gorgeous pinky-orange, like sunset. Hardly anyone is on the beach here, just a few people sunbathing. We find a section of beach and put down our towels; I find several tiny spiral shells, perfect, and some scallop shells so pure and white they could be ceramic. The water is cold, and the sand is so fine it feels like mud underfoot. Farther out there are patches of seagrass. I’m not digging it. I avoid swimming in lakes for just this reason, gross stuff underfoot! We find some grass-free zones and swim around for an hour or two, before we get tired and decide to trudge back up to the split to change out of our suits.

At the ferry terminal, there’s a feisty little chihuahua wearing a nametag that says “Leo,” who amuses himself by sniffing everyone’s bags and shoes before returning to his repeated attempts to eviscerate his stuffed platypus. My feet hurt from walking around in flip-flops, and I’m definitely not well-hydrated, which is my fault for not buying enough water bottles.

Gaze leans against the bulkhead and falls asleep. Bookworm leans on her knees and does the same. Taz produces a paperback book from his backpack (good lord, the child can read anywhere), and The CEO reviews the pictures he took on the beach. Back in Belize City, we’re starving and stunned that all the restaurants near the water taxi entrance are closed now. You’d think they’d stay open and catch tourists taking the last ferry of the day back to the mainland.

Photo by Connie Ma at Flickr, some rights reserved. I'm surprised at how common it is here to have a metal fence around your yard.
Photo by Connie Ma at Flickr, some rights reserved. (Click through to follow link.)
I’m surprised at how common it is here to have a metal fence around your yard.

We drive around the city looking for an open restaurant, but all the little mom-and-pop “fast food” shops doing brisk business selling garnaches and plates of stew chicken with rice and beans have closed up. It’s 6:30 pm, and the only option we find is a Chinese restaurant. We introduce the boys to the (American, probably) Chinese-restaurant custom of ordering several dishes to share, by asking for Chicken and Broccoli, Pepper Steak, Sweet and Sour Pork, and Vegetable Fried Rice. With it, we get Fantas and Coke and Sprite.

Fanta is everywhere here, in flavors we don’t get at home (pineapple, fruit punch, a weird root beer that tastes like licorice), which reminds me of my childhood. Taz has become fond of red Fantas. The other thing I notice is that the soft drinks are all made with real sugar, and they don’t have that weird whangy aftertaste that ruins nondiet sodas for me nowadays.

Tuesday, Nov. 20 – Lamanai day! The CEO has been thrilled about this jaunt since he booked it last week: an hourlong drive north from Belize City to the boat location in Orange Walk, then an hourlong boat trip through “crocodile-infested waters” to Lamanai and a tour, lunch included, then the boat trip and drive back to our guest house.

We start early. Ian the tour guide is a careful driver; we have to pause several times for uniformed students to exit school buses. There are government schools, Ian says, but most everyone sends their children to the church-run ones. On the way, we marvel at the various colors people have painted their houses here — mostly pastels, some vivid sherbety colors. It would look silly in Virginia, we agree, but in the tropics it’s delightful. Ian stops once, to buy plantain chips for the monkey we’ll get to feed on the trip, and we see a farm truck hauling Brahma-cross cattle. “For market in Guatemala,” Ian tells us. “We mostly eat chicken and seafood here, some pork, some beef.”

When we get to the boat dock at Lamanai Belize Tours, it’s cool under the trees, but we sunscreen up and bug-spray ourselves anyway. Our boat includes the five of us, a couple from Louisiana, and Ian, and we’re ready! We go a little ways upriver to see the spider monkey that hangs around (literally) in the same spot most of the time, and about half of us choose to feed him plantain chips. He poses for pictures.

Then we’re speeding back down the Rio Nuevo, which is particularly funny to us since the river we live near in Virginia is also called the New River. (Generally considered by geologists to be one of the five oldest rivers in the world, its name is contrary.) The vegetation ranges from small trees at the edge of the water to bushes to water lilies, and we see many waterbirds.

At Lamanai, “Submerged Crocodile,” we have to hurry the start of our tour because, Ian says, we’re attempting to get through before the cruise ship tours start. Our tour, with no set time to be back at the ship before it leaves port, will be more extensive than the one the cruisers get, but we’d better get going.

Jaguar Temple, Lamanai. Taz in red shirt, Gaze in blue, Bookworm in orange, and the jaguar at bottom left. Photo by The CEO.
Jaguar Temple, Lamanai. Gaze is in blue shirt, Taz in red, Bookworm in orange, and the jaguar is at bottom left. Photo by The CEO.

Ian tells us that this site was discovered when the people who lived near it started to wonder why there were hills there, when most of the land nearby is very flat. They started to dig, found stone, and realized it was an ancient Mayan site. This one was occupied for over 2000 years and, at its largest, held over 35,000 inhabitants. The site is not fully excavated, but clearly covers a much larger area than Altun Ha.

We first visit the Jaguar Temple, and then living quarters that once housed royalty or high-level religious officiants. We make our way past the smaller Stele Temple, with its beautifully carved standing stone, through the Ball Court, and then on to the High Temple, which is indeed really high. I get dizzy 3/4 of the way up, and refuse to go up any farther. Visibility is wonderful from this high up, but it makes me nervous.

The High Temple, Lamanai. Crane your neck to see the top... a bit further... yeah, that's high. Photo by The CEO.
The High Temple, Lamanai. Crane your neck to see the top… a bit further… yeah, that’s high. Photo by The CEO.

Then we spend a few moments on a gravel path to the Mask Temple, so-called because of its depiction of a deity wearing a crocodile headdress. The masks here are fiberglass replicas too, which seems quite sensible to me in protecting the original from exposure to weather (and careless people). Here we run into not one, but two cruise-ship tours, full of loud people who spend a lot of time taking selfies. I actually hear two people refer to the temple as “Inca.” Eye roll.

(I dunno. I’ve said we’re Museum People and history geeks, and that’s true. We don’t go on vacation with thoughts of tropical rum drinks and tanning on the beach. We’re weird, and we like it that way.)

After the Mask Temple, we’re making our way along the tree-shaded, graveled path back to the entrance when we hear them: howler monkeys. We go to the picnic shelter for our lunch, of traditional Belizean stew chicken seasoned with annatto, rice and beans, fried plantains, cole slaw, pico de gallo, and soft drinks. It’s delicious.

Then we’re back on the boat, breeze blowing our shirts. Taz rests his head on my thigh and goes to sleep. We round a curve and six white herons rise on flapping wings into the air, lifting, lifting — and then we’re around the next curve and they’re gone. The CEO mutters to me, “They told me these were crocodile-infested waters. I feel cheated.”

We’re almost back to the boat dock when we see it: a roiling in the water, something being dragged down. I’m thinking, Ooh finally! a crocodile just grabbed lunch!, when Ian slows the boat to get a closer look, and it turns out to be…

Crocodile. Actually, EX-crocodile. Photo by The CEO.
Crocodile. Actually, EX-crocodile. Photo by The CEO.

… a tail-less crocodile, certainly dead, floating in the water. Ian speculates that either it had been killed by poachers and its tail taken, or it had been hit by a boat and something else, perhaps another crocodile, had eaten its tail. It was definitely moving when we saw it, though we decide that at that point, another crocodile must have been moving it, trying to drag it away to be lunch. The CEO goes back through his photos and finds one showing movement. SEE IT LOOKED ALIVE SEE SEEEEEE?? THERE WAS SPLASHING AND EVERYTHING.

I nearly drift off during the trip back to Belize City, while Ian and The CEO talk about the possibility that someone might come in and buy a bunch of the land that is just sitting idle here, and start an agricultural enterprise. There were once sugar plantations, after the mahogany had been thinned out, but people don’t really farm around here, other than a few private vegetable gardens, and those cattle we saw earlier. We see lots of little roadside stands selling fresh coconuts, but nobody really raises coconut trees; they find the trees and harvest the nuts to sell.

Dinner is at the Sahara Grille, five minutes’ walk for Mediterranean food. Picky Taz is nonetheless satisfied with chicken kebabs (and red Fanta, of course). The CEO can’t remember whether he likes falafel or not (I remember, and the answer is NOT), so he orders kefte, which he has a vague memory of liking. It’s all good, and although we have to dodge the potholes in the road with care, it’s nice to walk after dinner.

I’m still not wearing any perfume, by the by: too many mosquitoes, too big a chance of Zika virus and other nasty tropical illnesses. Better safe than sorry, though I could really dig a spritz of Tommy Girl at this point.

Tomorrow we snorkel!

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Belize, Thanksgiving Week 2016, Part I

It may take me three posts to get through the Belize travelogue! We had a wonderful time.

FYI, there are lots of informational links in this series of posts about our vacation to Belize. If you want to read more about something, go ahead and click a link in blue text without worrying that you’ll be directed to a site that wants your money. 🙂

Friday, Nov. 18 – Doing the hurry-scurry gotta-pack-gotta-go dance, making sure we have dog care covered and vehicle ready to make the 4-hour drive to The CEO’s sister’s house near Dulles. I kinda hate this part of a trip. Did I unplug everything, did we turn the heat down, did we get the trash out, did I leave something I will need? Ugh.

Bookworm keeps calling to tell us that she’s stuck in Friday-evening traffic in and around NYC. Poor baby, she really hates traffic, and she’s already tired. She doesn’t get in until after 11 pm.

Saturday, Nov. 19 – Up at 4 am to make a 6:30 flight, double ugh. Security is pretty fast at this time of day, and there are no issues with the first leg of our flight. It’s cold and windy in Chicago (duh!), but we manage to grab some breakfast and make our next flight, direct to Belize City.

belize-airport-signIt’s warm here. Sort of tropical, but not in the same carefree island way that Hawai’i is tropical. The car rental guys, Ashton and Fitzgerald, are super nice. They give us “Big Red,” a good-sized SUV, help us load our suitcases, and even draw us a map for the Red Hut Inn. It starts to rain, and we manage to get sorta lost on the short 15-minute drive — not because the directions are bad, but because there are no street signs, I mean absolutely zero signs, and also because I am distracted by all the houses and buildings that would probably be condemned as unhabitable here in the US. A road crew is working on the main road from the airport to downtown Belize City, and it’s kind of scary: potholes, narrow places, no shoulder, river on one side, plus people in orange vests with shovels of gravel. The speed limit on this highway is 40 mph, but we get passed by six vehicles, all going well over 40. I don’t know how.

I’m thinking maybe this was not the best idea we ever had, especially when we hit yet another pothole on the street that should be where our guest house is. At least everybody speaks English, I remind myself.

red-hut-innWhen we find the guest house (it’s a Thanksgiving miracle! no sign out front), it’s in a residential neighborhood on a street that goes almost down to the water. The hosts are welcoming, and our rooms are nice. They’re on the third floor; The CEO and I are in a small double-bed room, and the kids are in a room at the other end of the balcony, with a twin bed and a bunk-bed. We’re dying from the humidity until we turn on the AC. (Thank you, Lord for AC.) It happens to be a holiday here, and there are few businesses open. We know we’ll need groceries for lunch tomorrow, so we go to the Asian grocery the hosts recommend and pick up some staples. Then a lovely grilled-chicken dinner cooked by Louis, and then, oh yes, bedtime.

Sunday, Nov. 20 – Adventure time! Our host told us last night that we could certainly manage a three-item tour today, and because The CEO loves a challenge, we’re going for it: Mayan ruins site Altun Ha, the baboon sanctuary, and the Belize Zoo.

We eat peanut butter sandwiches and raisins for breakfast and drink juice boxes. We’ve been advised that the water is safe to drink here, but because Bookworm is very concerned (“I cannot get sick. There are only three weeks of class left and I have a substantial research paper to finish and FroCo duties and my chem research lab stuff and then there are exams and I. CANNOT. GET. SICK.“), we have planned to drink bottled liquids.

We drive north on the same  highway we traveled yesterday; past the airport turnoff construction ceases and the road is pretty decent. We’re in the parking lot for Altun Ha about 45 minutes after leaving Belize City, and we are sunscreening and bug-spraying ourselves for all we’re worth, when a man walks up to us and asks if we would like a tour of the ruins. “How much?” we ask.

“Special price,” he tells us. “$5 American for each of you. At least an hour tour, and I’ve been through the training as a tour guide. You can ask me anything.” His name is Frederick, and although his tour doubles the cost of the entrance fee, it turns out to be absolutely worth it. He outlines the history of the city, explains the general layout and the reason why some of the temples are left unexcavated (they are mostly constructed of limestone, and since limestone is porous, removing the tree roots that have grown into the buildings over time would cause the structures to crumble), as well as giving us a thorough overview of the site and Mayan history in general. He answers all our questions, which are many and vary from, “So why are some of the temple steps white and some of them natural stone?” to “So they think this area off to the right was, what, the priest’s house?”

Altun Ha plaza. Photo by The CEO.
Altun Ha plaza. Photo by The CEO.

Altun Ha is a relatively small site, one of the later trading posts of the Mayans, and has several excavated/partially-restored temples as well as two central plazas. One of the most exciting finds from the excavation here was the tomb of an elderly man, either royalty or high-ranking priest, who was buried with exquisite pottery and heavy jade and shell jewelry. Resting near his right hand was a carved piece of jade depicting the head of the sun god Kinich Ahau. This jade head weighed nearly ten pounds and is the single largest piece of Mayan carved jade ever found. It now rests in the Central Bank in Belize City, and a picture of it is on all Belizean currency.

Frederick explains to us that Belize’s population is about a third Mestizo (people of Spanish and Maya descent), about a third Kriol (people of African and English/Scottish descent), about 10% Maya, about 6% Garifuna (people of African and Amerindian descent), and the remaining 12-14% people from elsewhere in the world. A fair number of these are Chinese, he says, which would explain the Chinese grocery we saw.

On the way out, we stop by the souvenir stall that Frederick and his girlfriend keep. They’re selling beautifully made and polished wooden items – bowls, and decorative items like the toucan. We buy The CEO’s sister a gorgeous bowl and a natural wood toucan for ourselves.

Then, with Bookworm reading the map we got at the airport (maps: not ma thang), we find the road going to the baboon sanctuary. Which is not, I discover, for baboons, but for native howler monkeys.

This cracks me up, and you’d have to know my dad to understand, but any time my brother, sister, or I were crying and he was trying to jolly us out of it, he’d call us howler monkeys. He kept that up with his grandchildren, so that when I hear “howler monkey,” I can hear my dad’s voice saying it in my head. It’s an eye roll, but a sweet one.

We find a place advertising itself like this: “Your exciting eco-tour starts here!” We pull in. There are restrooms and a picnic table, plus a small building that looks like a restaurant — or, let’s be honest here, a beer place that serves food, like most of the rest of the places we’ve seen on the side of the road here. But nobody’s around, except a mother dog so tired she just flicks an ear at us and goes back to sleep. We eat lunch (more PB&J sandwiches, more juice boxes), reapply bug spray, and head down the trail.

Howler monkey
Howler monkey

There are monkeys right there. Before we’ve gone three minutes’ walk, there are two males, a female, and a baby in the trees overhead, and we carefully step across a long line of large ants carrying pieces of leaf. The male howlers are making their weirdly loud booming noises (clearly we are threats), and The CEO gets several good pictures. Insects are flying around, and this is making Bookworm nervous, and we’re all hot, so we decide that the car’s AC sounds good, and we don’t want to miss the zoo hours, so we leave.

Bookworm navigates us back to Belize City down a different road, and we hit the Belize Zoo parking lot with plenty of time to see everything. The zoo tries to replicate natural habitats as much as possible for its animals, which are all native species and are all either rescued, orphaned, zoo-born or rehabilitated (i.e., nobody went out and captured animals in the wild to display here). Taz is excited about the tapir (“mountain cow” in Belize), and Gaze likes the colorful birds. But it’s a big thrill for us to run across an enclosure for two pumas, AKA cougars, AKA mountain lions, AKA panthers. Puma concolor is long gone from eastern North America, but it once lived here in the mountains of southwest Virginia, and of course our high school mascot is the cougar. (Although the last authenticated report of a cougar in our state was in 1884 in Washington County, my grandfather, born in 1912 in neighboring Lee Co., swore that he’d heard a cougar — a “painter” in local parlance — in the woods as a child. “Sounded just like a woman screaming,” he said.) A zoo employee happens to be standing by with a covered pail, and the larger puma stops near the enclosure fence to watch him. He keeps showing the puma something in the bucket, and the puma makes a sound very like a cat’s meow.

Cougar, intent on the treat in the keeper's bucket. Believe it or not, this photo was not zoomed and cropped; he really was that close! Pic by The CEO.
Cougar, intent on the treat in the keeper’s bucket. Pic by The CEO.

I suppose that the keeper is intentionally keeping the animal near the fence for our benefit, and Bookworm tells me that these cats are more like house cats genetically and behaviorally than they are like big cats such as lions or tigers. The smaller puma sneaks up and playfully pounces on the larger one, and there’s a yowl and a pursuit through the vegetation that would look very familiar to anyone who’s ever owned cats.

By the time we’ve made it back to the zoo entrance and someone suggests checking out the reptile cages, I am about done. I have bug bites despite the bug spray, and I’m desperately thirsty, and you can keep the snakes, thank you, even if they’re behind glass.

Louis makes us dinner again, snapper with a delicious savory sauce. Yum. We mention to him that we’re thinking of visiting the Cultural and History Museum, and he snorts. “It’s crap. There’s nothing to see there, don’t waste your time.” Bedtime is very welcome.

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Malta-Rome Travelogue 1: Saturday, March 5, 2011

(I’ve already posted a few days’ worth of the travelogue along with the Scent Diary for 2/28-3/6, so I’ll recap/expand.  Hard to believe this was a month ago…)

Street in Victoria, going into Fontana (Gozo)

We landed in Rome mid-morning Saturday, and promptly got lost wandering around in the airport, trying to find our flight. We knew we were in the correct terminal, G, but our online tickets did not state a gate number, and none of the gates listed a flight to Malta. The electronic board said: Air Malta KL285 to Valletta, departing 12:15, gate TBA. So where was it? Then there was an announcement in Italian and then in English: “Air Malta KL285 to Valletta now changed to Gate 8.” We hied ourselves down to Gate 8 – where the board said Alitalia XYZ123 Lisbona 13:00. Aargh. “That couldn’t be it,” we said to each other. We walked from one end of the terminal to the other and then back to Gate 8, lugging our carry-on bags and examining each gate’s message board: Firenze, Bern, Brussels, Paris, (blank), Athens, (blank), Lisbon. Huh. No Valletta. Several announcements told us Flight Whatever to Someplace Else had been changed to Gate 2. No, Gate 4. No, back to Gate 2. Then, “Air Malta KL285 to Valletta will now depart from Gate 6.” We dutifully hauled our stuff to Gate 6…

where the board said Firenze 10:40, and no one was on duty. Aargh. At this stage, we were hungry, so we bought bottles of water and ham-and-fontina panini on olive bread (delicious!) and consumed them standing up. Then we walked down to the customer service area, now open for business, and asked about our flight. “Gate 8,” the attendant said firmly. “You’re sure? There’s nobody there, and the board says Lisbon,” we told her. She made a phone call in rapid Italian, checked her computer screen again, and looked up with a smile. “Definitely Gate 8. Enjoy your trip.” We thanked her and plodded back to Gate 8…

where a bored-looking, overly-rouged young woman in Alitalia flight-attendant uniform, with fuschia talons, was examining boarding passes (how did she do it without stabbing anyone with those fingernails?!?). We asked if this was indeed the gate for the flight to Valletta, since the sign still said Lisbona. “Yes, yes, yes,” she said, waving her hands at us. “Get in the line, please.” A line had formed behind us as we asked our question. We sat down while she made a phone call, and checked passports and flight information. Presumably in response to the phone call, another airport employee stepped behind her and changed the sign to read Air Malta KL285 Valletta 12:15. Thank goodness. We started breathing again, and sat down to await the shrinkage of the line.

Our Air Malta flight was enjoyable despite the chaos of the airport: pleasant attendants, lovely tea and sandwiches, a sunny afternoon. I’d gone all stupid with lack of sleep, and when the attendant asked me if I’d like juice, I just sort of stared at him until The CEO nudged me into replying.

The juice was good. Not sleeping was bad (at that point, I’d been awake for… wait, let me calculate… 24.5 hours straight).

Cathedral in Shewkija, seen from the Ggantija temple hill (Gozo)

Upon landing, we picked up our luggage – kudos to the US Air guy at the Roanoke airport, for checking our suitcases all the way through to Malta! – and headed for the tourist information booth, to find out how best to get the ferry to the island of Gozo. The nice Maltese lady at the booth told us that the Gozo ferry was at the other end of the island, and to get there we could either take a 45-minute taxi ride for about €35, or a two-hour bus ride. “How much does that cost?” The CEO asked her. “We don’t have any time constraints, and we’d like to see the island.”

She laughed. “You’ll have to pay 47 Euro cents for Bus 82, which will take you to the terminus in Floriana. There you’ll get on Bus 146, which will take you to the ferry near Mellieha. That will cost 1,16. It’s a nice ride, and you’ll go through several of the cities on the east side of the island.”

The seaside town of Xlendi (Gozo)

That sounded like a good plan: see some scenery, kill part of the afternoon, and save 30. We took the bus. As requested, we hauled our luggage to the back and sat down, holding hands. It was a relatively short ride, about half an hour, to the bus terminus, and we practically twisted our necks off looking out the windows at the rocky terrain, the windswept palm trees, the medieval fortresses, and holidaymakers in Carnival costume.

I had assumed that “bus terminus” meant the kind of station I’ve seen before. There’s a bus station in my hometown, and you can catch both city buses and Greyhound service there. I’ve ridden buses in New York City and in Washington, DC. And we saw numerous bus stations in New Zealand.

But “Bus Terminus” in Malta – and Gozo, for that matter – means, essentially, “Big Bus Parking Lot.” No station building, no shelters, no benches, no ticket office, nothing but asphalt with painted lines. We got off the first bus in this parking lot in Floriana, and looked around, nonplussed. The CEO saw it first: a painted parking area stating 146 in block letters. There was no bus in it. We went over and stood in the marked-off area anyway, and looked around at the controlled chaos in the bus lot: probably fifteen buses, of all different models and stages of decrepitude, all painted yellow and red, and a good hundred people wandering around the lot looking for their desired routes. A few minutes later a large bus chugged into sight and parked in the 146 spot; just as we began to ask the driver if this was the bus to the Gozo ferry, he got off the bus and locked it. “Break time,” he said, in English. “Ten minutes, then we go.” So we stood around and talked to a nice German lady who was visiting her daughter on Malta, and who had come downtown to see the children in their Carnival costumes.

The driver was back in nine minutes and a crowd hopped onto the bus, which had clearly seen younger days, if not better ones: its floorboards were patched with wood, and the vinyl upholstery was cracked. A sign at the front pronounced the bus to be the “Marija Bambina,” the Baby Mary, and there was a religious icon stuck to the ceiling. The shocks were terrible; we bounced and jounced around on even smoothly paved streets. (It wasn’t too bad unless the bouncing made the suitcases shift, and then you had to look out for your shoulder, or your knee. Ow.)

Carnival in Victoria (Gozo)

We rolled through the streets, picking up people leaving the downtown celebration and dropping them in various towns. We saw adorable children in princess and pirate costumes, and a dance troupe dressed like a Hollywood dream of Cleopatra’s Egypt, waiting to perform. There was a young couple sitting in front of us on the bus who were sharing some very personal time – she had a glorious head of curly black hair, and he was one of the prettiest young men I’ve ever seen, with dark hair and gray-green eyes and delicate El Greco facial structure; it was like our own private Harlequin romance novel, right there on the bus.

And at some point during this hour-and-a-half bus ride, with teenage girls giggling and old ladies in black hissing passionately to each other in Maltese, with the busted shocks jiggling us, with the Romance Novel kissing in front of us – I fell asleep.

It was a delicious half-hour.

I woke in time to see the beaches at Mellieha, Golden Bay and Paradise Bay, as the afternoon sun slanted through the clouds. The bus pulled into another big parking lot, at the ferry terminal, and we struggled off the bus and onto the ferry, manhandling our suitcases as best we could.

The water was not choppy, so nobody got seasick. We split a Coke and surreptitiously watched the people around us – mostly families, or groups of teenagers socializing by gender, with the occasional couple dressed up for a costume party. Most seemed to be Maltese, judging by the language and facial features, but we were sitting next to a table full of what seemed to be English people, with fair hair and ruddy cheeks, consuming beers.

When we struggled down the stairs at the Gozo end of the ferry terminal, I was starving. It was crowded, and we couldn’t figure out the Gozo bus schedule, so we waved for a taxi.

Yes, where?” the driver inquired. We couldn’t say the name of the town, so we showed him our hotel confirmation: The Cornucopia Hotel in Xaghra. “Ah, Zhaaarrah! Seventeen euro.” This, we were to later find out, was an inflated value. Every other taxi we took on Gozo was 13. But it was a Carnival night, and there weren’t enough taxis to go around, so we paid our 17 and shut up about it, saving our breath to pray that our driver’s inattention to silly little things like lane dividers and speed limits would have no dire consequences! It was more nerve-racking than sitting in the passenger seat with one’s teenager driving, and that’s saying something.

The evening view from our hotel balcony toward Marsalforn (Gozo)

The sky was darkening when we reached our hotel, but there was time to note the palms from our balcony, and the flowers on the balcony of the house across the street, and the fortress on the top of the next hill over, as The CEO took several quick photos. We were exhausted and grungy, and as I mentioned, extremely hungry. We took quick showers, changed clothes, and hustled down to the hotel restaurant as soon as possible, in order to take advantage of the special holiday meal.

We ate antipasto and delicious crusty bread, then rabbit in wine sauce with mushrooms, roast potatoes, and mixed vegetables. We drank part of a bottle of delicious Gozo wine – its label mentioned the “minuscule but fertile vineyards of Gozo” – and coffee and tea with our traditional Gozitan Carnival dessert called Prinjolata. Our server was the most cheerful waiter I’ve ever had; he seemed so pleased to be able to recommend items to us and have us enjoy them.

And then we went back to our room and collapsed on the firm mattress and watched BBC news and VH1 and tallied our journeys:

By car from home to Roanoke

By plane from Roanoke to Philadelphia

By plane from Philly to Rome

By plane from Rome to Valletta, Malta

By bus from Valletta to Floriana

By bus from Floriana to the Gozo ferry

By ferry to Gozo

By taxi to our hotel

We had left home at noon Friday, and it was about 7pm when we’d arrived at the hotel – less six hours’ time difference, that was 25 hours’ worth of traveling all at once. I’m exhausted just thinking about it now.

All photos courtesy of The CEO.

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A ‘Fumey Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…

… really, no kidding!  On Friday, I’d had amorphous, tentative plans to go looking for niche Italian perfumeries in Rome later in the afternoon, after our Forum/Coliseum tour. But The CEO was dragging me down this street and up the next one, looking for the Pantheon, and my feet hurt, and near one of the bridges over the Tiber I said, “Let’s go this way,” and pointed to the right. “I think we can get there from here.”

So we went to the right, and half a block later I saw the magic sign PROFUMERIA over one of those hole-in-the-wall Italian shops that close with a metal garage door, so I dragged The CEO for a change. “I’m going in there,” I said emphatically, and pointed.

The older Italian man in the shop spoke very little English, but enough to know that I was looking for specifically Italian perfume. “Bulgari,” he said, pointing. “Bulgari, Ungaro, Gucci. Gucci, Hermes, Dior, Givenchy…” I was shaking my head, No, No, Italiano, so he went on pointing. “Bulgari, Prada, Armani, Moschino.  Aquolina, Dolce et Gabbana.  Bulgari.  Chanel?”

I consented to have Bulgari Jasmin Noir sprayed (generously, I noted) on my left wrist, and Gucci Guilty on my right, with Ungaro Fleur di Diva on my right forearm. At this point, The CEO intervened by pointing to a poster on the wall. “What about the Lolita one? Do you like that?”

The men’s is too shaving-creamy for me, but I’ve actually never smelled the women’s,” I said. As I turned back to the counter, the shop owner had the Lolita Lempicka tester ready and spritzed my left forearm.

Yes?” he asked, beaming. “Is bella?”

(It actually is. I found myself liking it more and more as the afternoon wore on and the anise-vanilla note held true through a sweaty, confusing, miserable-feet afternoon. But I didn’t buy it.)

I don’t know,” I said and shook my head. “Organza Indecence?” I asked, pointing. It isn’t Italian per se, but that one is getting harder to find in the US for less than about $130. This box was 100ml for 78 euros, not a bargain at the current (disastrous) exchange rate. I shook my head again. About then, I saw a couple of black-and-gold Gianfranco Ferré boxes, and one of them bore the legend “20.” That one, I knew, is an aldehydic floral that is either discontinued or very hard to find in the US, and at least one perfumista I know sings its praises. I pointed. “Ferré?”

Ferré!” exclaimed the shop owner, shooting a finger into the air. “Ferré, si.” He seized the tester and sprayed the inside of my left elbow, again generously. “Yes?”

I sniffed too soon and got a snootful of aldehydes, which made me laugh. “Aldehydes,” I said to the shop owner, waving my hand over the wet spot and rolling my eyes, and he laughed too. When I sniffed again, I got sparkly aldehydes bright as the disco ball at the skating rink, over a piquant fruity top. I didn’t wait for the topnotes to subside. Every Ferré scent I’ve tried (three or four of them, all with frustratingly similar names) has been nice, top to bottom, so I claimed Ferré 20. “I can’t get this at home,” I told The CEO.

You want it?” he asked. “This is your birthday money, right?” I nodded, and pulled out the credit card.   Currency conversion charges be darned: 52 euros later, the aldehydic-floral goodness of Ferré 20 was mine.

I picked up the little package, and with many thank-you’s and grazies, we started out the door. “Wait,” The CEO said to me. “You want a picture?” Yes. Yes, I did. The shop owner, whose name I never learned, graciously agreed to have his picture taken.

The CEO and I wandered around from there, finding the ruins of the Portico Ottavia, the Teatro Marcello, the big white building with twin statues of Nike (we never figured out the name of the thing, but I think it’s an art museum), the naked statues of Castor and Pollux and their enormous marble packages, an ancient bronze statue of Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf, and eventually the ancient Forum, from the opposite perspective than we’d seen earlier in the day.

After taking some more pictures, The CEO came up next to me and said, “That was cool that you found that little shop – and now you have a funny story to tell, right?” I nodded. “A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum!” he said. “A ‘fumey thing – don’t you say ‘fume?” I nodded again. “You can use that. I give it to you for free. Great blog post title.  And much better than buying mainstream stuff in the Duty Free shop.”

Much better, I agree. I also noticed when I got the box back to our hotel (several hours and six blisters later) that the ingredients list says, “Alcohol Denat., Parfum, Aqua.” Even cooler! I have snagged myself a bottle old enough to have been produced before the IFRA regulations existed. It smells that way, too.  Notes (from Fragrantica): blackberry, mandarin, bergamot, rose, jasmine, iris, vanilla, musk, cedar, sandalwood.  I’m surprised  no aldehydes are listed, because they are certainly present, and I also suspect a bit of benzoin in the mix.  Otherwise, 20 smells very much like you’d expect, a nice woody floral given a touch of fun by the tangy fruit and a touch of elegance by the aldehydes.

So if you’re ever in Rome, go to 26, Via di Montesavello, near the tiny Piazza del Ierusalem , and tell the nice man at Idea Profumeria that the crazy American lady said Buon giorno! Buy some perfume while you’re there.  Give him a hug when you leave, decorated with the contents of six tester bottles.  Leave happy.  Done.

Image of Ferre 20 from Fragrantica.  Other photos courtesy of The CEO.

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Scent Diary, Feb. 28-Mar. 6, 2011, and the first part of the Malta travelogue

Okay, disclaimer here: I usually set up a template for Scent Diary on my laptop and add a little bit to it each day, then publish it Sunday afternoon or evening.  This particular week, pre-vacation, was so busy that I neglected the diary, and it’s woefully incomplete. I do apologize for that.  However, the end of the week does contain a few observations on travel and some sniffery reportage, so perhaps it’s not a complete waste of time…

Monday, Feb. 21: Warm and nice this morning. I grabbed a lightweight jacket I hadn’t worn in some months, and found vintage Arpege parfum on the sleeves. It rubbed off onto my wrists – just a little bit, but enough to enjoy for a couple of hours before I moved on to testing a few other possibilities for our Malta trip: Carthusia Mediterraneo and Caprissimo, both FAILS. Mediterraneo is essentially a nice citrus cologne; I was assured it was much more floral, by Someone Who Is Very Wrong, not that I am holding a grudge… although I would be holding a grudge, if I’d been dumb enough to buy an unsniffed bottle. Caprissimo is one of the reasons that aldehydic floral scents wear the moniker “Old Lady” – I have rarely smelled a more unpleasant, powdery-mildewy, fusty-dusty fragrance. After a couple of hours it got nicer, but still not wearable in my book.

In the afternoon, it started to pour rain, and got much chillier. SOTAfternoon was Vamp á NY, to cheer myself up. It worked, and then I got home and found a spray sample of Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Mirto di Panarea, so I spritzed the inner elbow of my shirt. This, in my opinion, is even more like what I wanted for my vacation scent than last week’s success, Nobile 1942 Pontevecchio W. Mirto di Panarea starts out very aromatic and herbal, with some citrus and sage (maybe?) and lavender, and the lavender, usually an Instant Headache trigger, is very pleasant. Then it goes to a nice quiet rose under the herbs, and a bit of woods and musk.

Tuesday, Mar. 1: Sunny.  (Here’s where I stopped writing, apparently, and now cannot remember a darn thing about what fragrance I wore or even if anything else interesting happened that day.  Oh, yes, now I remember – it was Statement Day at work.  I think maybe I wore Mariella Burani.  Funny how I always seem to go for comfort scents on Statement Days.)

Wednesday, Mar. 2: (I got nothin’ here.  Wednesday is a blur… except that I spent the day at work training the guy who’ll be taking over most of my duties while I’m gone.  I strongly suspect that very soon my boss is going to split up my duties among several of the other employees, leaving me out of a part-time job.  If that happens, I plan to spend time writing.  I’m well aware that the quality of writing here at MiWS has deteriorated over the last year, year and a half or so, but I’m just so freakin’ busy that I feel guilty about all the stuff I haven’t done, and there’s no time… Not Working might actually be a relief.)

Thursday, Mar. 3: (Also completely nada, a day gone out of memory.  I think I helped the kids pack up their clothes and personal stuff for staying with The CEO’s parents, and made further arrangements for the trip.  Packed several fragrance samples for the trip: OJ Champaca, Via Camarelle, Pontevecchio W, Mirto di Panarea, and for cheery comfort, Vamp a NY.)

Quick recap of what this trip/holiday is for: The CEO was paid for teaching a class last semester in another department with “professional development” money, which he had to use before June.  He found a conference in Malta for the week of Spring Break.  We’re flying into Rome and from there to Malta, so on the way back we’ll spend a few days in Rome.

Malta is a group of three islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) located southeast of Sicily in the Mediterranean.  It’s been an independent country since 1963, but before that, it was an important naval fortress for a number of civilizations (Turks, the Knights of St. John, Napoleonic France, and England).  People speak Maltese, which is closely related to Arabic but written with Western-style lettering, and a large number of them also speak English.

Friday, Mar. 4:  (Also nothin’ written this day.  However, my memory for it is much clearer.)  Packed suitcases, took kids to school, patted the dog excessively and explained many times that we were not abandoning her permanently, told the cat once that we’d be back, paid a buncha bills, and made the hour’s drive to the airport.  Flew from Roanoke to Philly.  Ate a blisteringly-hot spinach-mushroom stromboli at the airport while waiting for the flight to Rome, and then attacked the Duty Free shop for free sniffies.

There was a poster for Thierry Mugler Womanity on the door, but it turned out that the tester had disappeared, so I gave that one a miss and picked up random bottles such as Hypnotic Poison, which I’d never smelled before.  It is total root beer, and I found it much less interesting than my darlin’ tuberose-root beer concoction Vamp a NY.  Smelled, via scent strips, a Gucci thing I can’t remember, and A Scent by Issey Miyake (okay, it’s really green, which is refreshing, but still too, I dunno, chemical), Burberry Weekend (no), Dior Addict (double no), Hermes Eau de Merveilles (hey, that’s nice! and I thought I didn’t like orange) and Dior Homme (all iris, all the time, boooooring).  Sprayed Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Flora Nymphea on my left wrist and got total orange blossom, which equals “soapy” on me (hey, my mom would like this! ).  And because I’d heard that Guerlain Idylle eau de toilette was a different composition than the original eau de parfum, which was way way WAY TOO MUCH PATCHOULI, in my opinion, I took a risk and tried the EdT on my right wrist.   It’s far more pleasant to my nose than the EdP, with more rose and lily of the valley and a lot less of the patch/musk accord.

I continued to enjoy the Idylle EdT throughout the nine-hour flight to Rome.  It lasted several hours, even on my scent-eating skin, and it’s really nice, I think – it doesn’t pretend to be one of those modern chypre things everybody love to hate, but it’s got a deeper base than your average pretty floral.  If a bottle fell out of the sky (or I found a used one for not too much $$), I’d probably wear the heck out of it.  It’s like a version of Coco Mademoiselle that I could have a meaningful relationship with… maybe I’ll buy my sister one and just borrow it occasionally.

I never manage to sleep on long flights.  I try, I really do.  I try dimming the lights, I try reading myself to sleep (it works at home), I try thinking of the ocean… it never works.  It especially never works on overnight flights, when you leave at night and are intended to arrive in the morning, and you’d better have gotten some sleep when you get to wherever you are going.  This may be a mental issue, or perhaps because there’s no sensation of movement while in the air.   I did manage to get through Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, but didn’t manage any forty winks.  Sigh.

Saturday, Mar. 4: Landed in Rome in the late morning, and then The CEO and I walked ourselves silly all over the airport, trying to find the gate for our flight to Malta.  It changed three times over an hour and a half, if you can believe that, and the electronic sign over the gate wasn’t correct until about seven minutes before boarding time.  Which nearly gave The CEO a heart attack, let me tell you.  Grrr.  We did have time for ham-and-fontina paninis on excellent bread before the flight, and we certainly needed them.  We were starving.

[Digression: The more flights I take on airlines based outside the US, the more I appreciate them: Qantas, Virgin Blue, Air New Zealand,  Air Malta – all of them provide complimentary light snacks, smiling service, and comfortable seats, and none of them try to sell you stuff in-flight.  If you’re reading this comment as a dig at US Airways, you’d be correct.   I once ate a fresh (fresh!) parmesan croissant, served with excellent tea, on a 45-minute Qantas flight.  Drank some wonderful Sauvignon Blanc, at no extra charge, on several Air New Zealand flights.  The sandwich I ate on this Air Malta flight was made of soft, fresh bread, with sliced – not deli – turkey breast, real mayonnaise, and lettuce.  It tasted homemade. Please reconsider your chilled hockey-puck whole wheat rolls, US Air!]

When we landed in Malta, I took a few minutes and snagged a coffret of Guerlain Aqua Allegorias: Herba Fresca, Bouquet Numero 1, Flora Nymphea, and Pamplelune.  I thought it might be a great way to pick up some souvenirs for family members.  I spritzed Pamplelune from a tester and found out that although I’m not a big citrus fan, I really like it; it stays cheerful for hours.  I can get why some people call it “cat pee,” but I think it’s terrific.

We talked to the nice Maltese lady at Tourist Information, and she told us that we could either take a 45-minute taxi ride to the Gozo ferry for about 40 euros, or a two-hour bus ride, with one bus change, for about 8 euros.  We had no schedule to keep, other than to check into our hotel by evening, and we decided to take the bus and see something of the island of Malta.  It happened to be Carnival, which on Malta is festive and includes parades, but is not the sexy hedonistic 24-7 party you get in Rio.  The bus was packed with tourists and Maltese, including children dressed up for the holiday.   It was delightful to see the kids in costume – my favorite was the baby in the pirate costume, sucking a pacifier and banging his hands gleefully on his stroller – they’re very colorful.  It was like Halloween without the creepy aspect.  We saw princesses and medieval princes, gypsies, rag dolls, knights, tigers and dragons: adorable.

When we finally arrived at the ferry terminal, I’d napped for awhile – funny how even a ride on an ancient bus with bad shocks was more lulling than a smooth airplane ride – and we’d seen several of the small cities on Malta.  Once the half-hour ferry ride was over, it was starting to get dusk, and rather than attempt to figure out the bus schedule on the island of Gozo, we simply grabbed a taxi to the Cornucopia Hotel in Xaghra.  I held on to The CEO’s hand pretty tightly, because (as we were to find out), the taxi drivers on Gozo regard speed limits and lane dividers as mere guidelines for the uninitiated.  It was hair-raising.  Our room was not fancy by American standards, but the bed was extremely comfortable, and we took a nap before our excellent dinner at the hotel restaurant, which featured traditional Gozitan Carnival foods, such as Rabbit and Mushrooms in Wine Sauce, roasted potatoes and vegetables, crusty bread, local wine, and an interesting dessert called Prinjolata.

Sunday, Mar. 5:  We slept late, got up and had a delicious and extravagant breakfast at our hotel (fresh pastries, fruit, cheeses, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, juice), then went back to sleep until early afternoon, when we walked over to the town of Victoria to meet our host for a introductory tour of Gozo.  It’s not far from Xaghra (pronounced something like Shaaah-rah, with the R rolled in the back of the throat), but the way is very steep down, and then pretty steep back up.  Ouch.  In any case, we walked around the town of Victoria (originally Rabat, before the British showed up), through the adjacent town of Fontana, and down a nice, newly paved road (you cannot count on this feature of roads on Gozo!) to the seaside village of Xlendi.   We ate mushroom pizza and bruschetta, talked to some pleasant Canadian ladies who were also attending the conference, and enjoyed the small harbor there before heading back to Victoria where we stayed for part of the Carnival celebrations.  These included a parade and dance performances by what seemed to be mostly teenagers, dressed to the nines in colorful theme costumes.   Fun.

All photos, except the Malta map which is from Lonely Planet, courtesy of The CEO.  More Malta/Rome travelogue to come in a few days.

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Scent Diary and Vacation Travelogue, July 12-18, 2010

Monday, July 12: We got a later start than we’d planned (when do we ever leave on time?), but the trip was smooth and uneventful. SOTD: Mariella Burani. Cheapie Wendy’s lunch, with trail mix and Gatorade in the car later in the afternoon. On the way to Charleston, we went so close to Columbia that The CEO thought it would be good to stop there and have a look at the SC State House. When we parked on the east side of the State House and put coins into the parking meter, Eddie said it was 97° F. My MB was pretty much gone at that point, and that was a good thing in the heat…

Side note: I’d better warn you, The CEO and I are those irritating people who give things cutesy names. As in, his vehicle, a Toyota Camry, is for obvious reasons called Cameron. My bought-used Dodge Caravan is Eddie Van, as in Eddie Van Halen. And the microwave is Mike Jr., the water pressure booster pump is Hans-and-Franz (it’s here to Pump YOU Up!), and the ice maker is Fidel (it’s always cubin’). There are more, but I’ll stop now. You’re welcome.

The SC State House is indeed quite beautiful: marble floors and glass mosaic windows and gorgeous wrought iron balustrades and handrails. They have cool bronze statues of George Washington and John C. Calhoun, and portraits in oil of historically significant South Carolinians, including Mary McLeod Bethune and Edgar Allen Poe. We were surprised to see portraits of Virginians Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (okay, okay, he was actually born in what is now West Virginia, but lived much of his adult life in Lexington, VA) prominently displayed in the SC House of Representatives room.  

Another side note: How about those South Carolinians keeping the War Between the States alive, hmm?  I thought we Virginians were bad. Funny/sad/true story: for years, beginning in the early 20th century, there was a state holiday in January called Lee-Jackson Day, celebrating RE Lee’s birthday.  (A kid from Pennsylvania asked me once, “Who’s this Lee Jackson guy?”)  Then when the federal government declared a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., guess what day that fell on?  Yep.  So in Virginia, for about a decade or two, we celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day, until the state holiday was moved to the Friday before MLK Day.  If that isn’t irony for you… 

The State House grounds were lovely as well, and I finally got to smell live osmanthus! A gorgeous floral-apricot smell. And magnolia is too – it smells like creamy, floral lemon custard. Which I knew, but I don’t get to smell magnolia much since it’s just a wee bit too cool where we live for most magnolia trees to thrive. We can grow a variety called the sweet bay magnolia, though it doesn’t smell quite as lush as the ones here in SC.

Tuesday, July 13: Visit to Ft. Sumter via ferry. Hot. Honestly, it’s like living in a sauna… (said the spoiled mountain-dweller). SOTD: Moschino Funny!, a lovely grapefruit-rose-tea thing that I liked much, much better than the way fancier Hermes Pamplemousse Rose, and that I once denigrated for being a pretty little wisp of nothin’ special. Which just goes to show that weather is important. First time I tried it, I wasn’t sure I was wearing anything at all, but it lasted several hours in miserable heat today.

I’m not sure whether we enjoyed Ft. Sumter, or the ferry cruise to the island that houses it, more. Taz found the cannons and their emplacement in the remains of the original fort engrossing, and we practically had to drag him away. “Look, Mom, you could slide it along this curved track like this, and you had to get away from the back, or it would recoil after you fired it, and it would knock you dead! And see… this one’s got a rifled barrel…”

After Ft. Sumter, we drove over the coolest bridge I’ve ever seen – the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, that’s it up top – and visited the naval museum on the decommissioned WWII-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The Medal of Honor museum aboard the Yorktown was very moving. The boys were in absolute heaven exploring the flight deck and captain’s bridge, as well as the numerous types of military aircraft stored on the flight deck. They were less impressed with the crew quarters and mess hall, not to mention the machine shop and torpedo shop. (Although I think it gave them a new appreciation for their granddad, who served aboard a destroyer tender – a much smaller ship – based in Norfolk, VA in the early 1960’s. “Wow… he had to sleep on a weird bed like that? And climb up ladders like that? It smells like the cabins at summer camp in here…”) The WWII-era diesel submarine, the USS Clamagore, surprised us all with how tough, and how impervious to claustrophobia, sailors had to be to serve on a tin can like that.

Wednesday, July 14: The CEO just realized that he has to be back home for a very important meeting on Friday (what, he couldn’t have read his email messages from three weeks ago? Apparently not.), so we’re going to go home a bit early. That pushes up some of our plans. Today we drove around historic downtown Charleston, visited Ft. Moultrie, and hit the beach at the Isle of Palms. SOTD: Miller Harris Fleur de Matin. I really like FdM – a bit of galbanum up top, then a hint of citrusy-herbal stuff like lemon balm, and then light florals like jasmine and freesia. For something so light, it wears fairly long (4 hours) in the heat.

The old part of Charleston, particularly near The Battery (the row of cannon facing Ft. Sumter across the Cooper River) is what people have been cooing over for a couple of centuries now: charming, tall, gracefully-proportioned houses with beautiful wrought-iron details, in ice-cream pastels like pink and lemon and cream. There is a sense of these houses being delicate, lacy, decorative, and hedged in by whalebone and wrought iron fences and cast iron cannons – the Flower of Southern Womanhood guarded by Masculine Might. It’s a little eerie, to be honest. I do see why Charleston highlights this part of town, and its military history. It’s good marketing, and it pays off in terms of drawing paying tourists to the area. But I imagine it’s not so much fun to be black and living in the unkempt area five blocks from The Battery. There’s a sort of willful neglect of the downtown area that isn’t historical, and I find myself wishing Charleston would spend a little money putting in some civic improvements in places that really need them.

We’re not really Beach People. I enjoy the beach for a few days at a time, and then I get sick of it and want to go home. I like the ocean, I love bouncing around in the waves, I like building sandcastles, and eating ice cream cones and seafood, and sitting in a beach chair watching the tide come in, and walking on the wet sand early in the morning to watch the sun come up and pick up shells. Doing it for more than a few days feels unproductive and just plain wrong to me. That said, the beach at Isle of Palms is really nice. The sand’s clean, and I couldn’t see any detritus of horseshoe crabs or dead jellyfish, like you see at Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. The houses along the shore are even brighter than those in Charleston: an apple green-and-white one flanked by a sherbety pink-and-lemon one and a periwinkle-and-sky blue one. Farther down, there’s a cream-and-mint green house, and a peach-and-dove gray, and on the other side of the hotel, a purple-and-lime ice cream shop. It’s pretty and bright, and the houses seem at home here against the sand and sea grass. I just know I couldn’t live here.

Thursday, July 15: I’ve been noticing: unlike home, where it’s so dry that our grass has started to go brown, SC has been getting lots of rain. It’s really humid here. I know saying that is a little like commenting that it sure is cold at the North Pole, but I was surprised at just how humid it is. It’s been a good twenty years, maybe, since I traveled south of Virginia in the summer. Yikes. I’d probably enjoy cologne more if I lived here. Temps have been running in the mid-to-upper 90s, too, while at home it’s been upper 80s to low 90s.

No fragrance this morning; we visited the waterpark just north of Charleston, and of course scent would have been wasted. This was a lot of fun: a mat slide, a wave pool, a climbing obstacle course with various fun water things, some slides, and a “lazy river” ride. We all got a little bit sunburned, despite putting on water-resistant SPF 50 sunscreen three times during our five-hour visit. Gaze, despite being the blondest of us, only had a bit of pink on the bridge of his nose and cheekbones. Bookworm, who’s a freckly strawberry blonde, is diligent about her 70 SPF, and applied it four times, but still wound up with pink ears, nose, and shoulders. So did I. The CEO, who has a classic “farmer’s tan,” with forearms and neck tanned brown, got his shirt area burned despite the sunscreen. He’s still uncomfortable, poor baby.

SOTDriveHome: Vamp a NY. I love the Vamp – big ol’ white flowers, root beer and vanilla. What’s not to like? It’s like vacation in a bottle.

Friday, July 16: The dog was really happy to see us when we got home last night. (The cat was simply annoyed that we had gone away. If she was glad to see us, she gave no indication of it.) Since I have the whole week off work, I stayed home today and we worked through some of the Laundry Mountain we brought back with us. Ever notice how, even if you put the dirty clothes in a big garbage bag instead of in your suitcase, the clothes you didn’t wear come home smelling weird anyway? I think I need some sachet things to keep the duffel bags and suitcases fresh when they’re not being used. SOTD: Mariella Burani, for comfort.

Saturday, July 17: How on earth does a house get dirty when you haven’t even been in it all week?? But it was a mess: dog hair and crumbs all over the floor, dirt on the carpets (guess we dragged that in on Thursday night)… sigh. We cleaned. SOTD, once I finished mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms: Manoumalia. I keep hoping.

We had a thunderstorm that dumped a very, very welcome 1.3 inches of rain before moving off and leaving the day about 20 degrees cooler. That brings us up to a total of about 2 inches this month. We’ve been getting far less than our average 37” annual inches of rain so far this year. Good thing we’ve still got hay left from last summer.

Sunday, July 18: Lovely day, mid-80s and not humid, but the grass has greened up since yesterday. SOTD: Carnal Flower, which is sooooo beautifully green and florist-case chilly over that big lush warm tuberose. Swoony stuff.

We were all set to host a group of inner-city kids from Atlanta for a hayride and lemonade this afternoon, when the heavens opened up and just dumped down the rain!   Luckily the storm didn’t last long, and we did get a bit more much-needed rain.  The kids from Bright Futures Atlanta, as usual, were terrific and lots of fun.  Some of them have never been out of the city, so taking them close to the cows is like going on safari.  There’s a lot of “Wow, they’re big!” and “What do you do with the dead ones?” and “How big is this place?”  Hayley, our beagle-yellow lab mix, is in absolute heaven with this many people around to pet her.  We had thirty people visiting (26 kids, 4 staff), and we blew through 4 1/2 gallons of lemonade and two pans of brownies in record time.

All images except the last two are from Wikimedia Commons.  The image of the woman washing clothes is from Flickr’s commons.  The photo of the kids on the wagon is from Bright Futures’ website, of last year’s visit, and yes, that is indeed The CEO piloting his John Deere 4230.  The kid in the orange shirt – not that you can see him – is Gaze.  I also notice how very, very green things looked last summer, as opposed to now.  Boy, did we need that rain!

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